About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Am Santa Claus movie (2014)

2014 movie poster.  I Am Santa Claus is directed by Tommy Avallone.
In our culture, Christmas has a very particular mythos. For example, a fairly rigid set of expectations governs what Santa Claus can and cannot do.  The rules extend to what he looks like, how he behaves, how he speaks, and so on. Christmas narratives often follow an equally rigid set of constraints, there’s always a search for the true meaning of Christmas and miracles are common.  The traditional themes that go into Christmas have become tightly interwoven with the holiday’s sacredness, and people get uncomfortable or even angry when they are tampered with. It certainly pushes our boundaries when we see saintly Santa Claus behave in ways outside of our expectations.

Because we hold Santa to such a narrow set of behaviors, it is revealing in the new documentary film I Am Santa Claus how quickly viewers may be set on edge.  The camera follows the lives of four professional Santa Clauses--and one Christmas enthusiast who takes up the challenge to become a professional Santa.  These five men express the best of intentions--they all believe the Christmas season is about spreading love, that there is no greater joy than seeing the sparkle of belief in a child's eyes, and that the magic of Christmas keeps us all young.  But the truth is, these men are human beings with bills to pay, hairy beards to bleach, diets filled with junk food, and sex lives.  Are you ready to see Santa Claus from a new perspective?

Santa Claus (formerly Santa Frank) from NY expresses what it feel like to have children see him as the beloved Santa Claus: "...I can see the glistening in their eyes, and I feel like I'm the best person on Earth."

In I Am Santa Claus, viewers are introduced to Santa Russell who is forced to move in with his adult daughter after he loses his home during the last downturn of the economy.  We also meet tattoo-covered Santa Frank, who legally changed his name to Santa Claus, and who dreams of opening his own barbeque restaurant. Santa Bob is a real estate agent in California. Gay Santa Jim struggles with a long distance relationship.  We also follow the journey of WWE Hall of Famer and Christmas lover, Mick Foley as he takes up his dream of being Santa at a Christmas resort in New England.  Foley's background in professional wrestling (and crafting a strong persona) actually lends itself well to his transformation into St. Nick.  Once he dyes his beard and puts on the red suit, Mick convincingly becomes Santa Claus--a transformation that stuns his wife and children!

This little boy (right) shares with Santa Mick that he wants only a ball for Christmas. It's one of many touching moments in the film.

It is moving to hear these men talk about discovering new meaning in their lives and connecting with others in a significant way when they become Santa.  There are unforeseen consequences and sacrifices to being a professional Santa as well, for example the pain that comes from bleaching one's facial hair over and over.  And, for many professional Santas, work means spending lonely weeks living in out-of-town hotel rooms over the holidays each year.  It's also interesting to see these older men find emotional meaning in cosplay--a popular movement more familiar to younger members of our society.  In cosplay, I think viewers are prepared to see genuine humanity and maybe even flaws in character from its participants. But in Santa Claus, we may not be so prepared to see these characters, warts and all.

I think that's the strength of this new documentary film.  It reveals the lives of these professional people that we haven't seen before and maybe have never even considered before. The film takes risks.  It shows the very human side of Santa Claus, perhaps pushing some viewers beyond their boundaries of comfort.  But that's what I like about it.  These five professional Santas in the movie don't struggle much with the iconic holiday role they have chosen to taken up--and they know the bounty of the rewards.  But watching the movie may force you to consider what Santa does the other 364 days of the year.  Happily, I didn't change my mind about Santa but I might have learned a thing or two about myself.  And that's a good movie experience.

Mick Foley isn't kidding when he claims to love Christmas. Not only has he purchased my book but we've discussed our favorite Christmas TV movies.

The new movie I Am Santa Claus is now available for viewing on DVD and BluRay, as well as download and streaming options.  I watched it on Netflix.  You can find out more about the movie at their website: www.iamsantaclausmovie.com, follow on the movie's Facebook page and on Twitter: @IamSantaMovie.

For those interested, there are at least two other documentary movies about professional Santa Clauses--each one is quite distinct.  There is 2011's Becoming Santa which follows one man's journey of becoming a professional Santa Claus, and 2012's They Wore the Red Suit which focuses on professional Santas and the industry that supports them. 

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